The Miami Heat‘s half game lead over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference didn’t last very long. After losing 98-85 to the Atlanta Hawks last night, the Heat have fallen dead even in the standings with the Pacers, with only two more games remaining on the schedule. Although the loss has the defending champs still wire-to-wire with the Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the majority of the Heat’s players were smiling because of one singular factor — Dwyane Wade has returned.
After missing the last nine games due to a severe hamstring injury, Wade finally decided to give it a go, and was able to string together a very impressive performance. In just 23 minutes of play (due to a restriction set by his trainers and the coaching staff), Wade had 24 points, three rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal, while shooting 10-14 from the field (71 percent). Wade’s return also gives the Heat an additional confident ball handler, which has been a lingering issue lately with Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Toney Douglas and yes, even LeBron James all becoming turnover prone.
With the regular season coming to a close, getting back a healthy Wade is something no one on the Heat roster is taking for granted. There were multiple games in which the Heat could have used Wade’s offensive output, but his health has been the No. 1 priority this season, not necessarily winning.
“If we had gotten it closer, our trainer and Dwyane said he could continue to go if needed. Obviously, we were very encouraged by that. We’ll proceed with a very careful eye and see how he feels. He’s been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. He probably felt like he should have been cleared a week ago, but we wanted to be very patient with him.” — Erik Spoelstra on Wade’s return.
The winning percentage for this season might be the lowest the Big Three have had since they formed in 2010, but this could be the first playoff run this group has had together where the majority of the roster is healthy. That could be the difference between an early playoff exit and a third straight title. Wade’s return signifies he is healthy again, and that has brought all smiles to the Heat players, the organization and the Heat nation.